He talks about most of his career in this AV Club Q&A, but when asked about his year on NewsRadio, he just says “I don’t want to talk about that.” (He mentions later that “Phil was like my brother, and it was horrible what happened.” But he doesn’t discuss his famous confrontation with Andy Dick.) You can’t exactly blame him. But he extensively describes the high points of his career, like Saturday Night Live, The Critic, and hearing the words “guys like us, we’re already funny” from his idol Woody Allen.
The piece is also a quick reminder that a performer’s career may include one period when he’s really hot, and once it passes, it’s hard to get it back. There were a few years in the ’90s, after SNL and his appearance in A League of Their Own, when Lovitz had offers everywhere. By 1998, he had cooled off enough that his best option was taking a job replacing Phil Hartman, and by the ’00s he needed to learn stand-up comedy so he could contine making good money. It’s bookended by his two appearances on Friends: “The first time I did it, I was doing them a favor because they were completely unknown… And nine years later, I had to literally beg to get back on—just to get back on TV. I had to go to the producer and go, “Please! Can you put me on again?”
He also tells the story of The Critic being canceled by Fox even though the ratings after The Simpsons were good. I wish I could find the show’s exact ratings for that season; the only listings I could find have only the top 30 shows for the year. I don’t doubt that the ratings on Fox were good enough that it could have stayed on if the network head, John Matoian, had liked it. Apparently he just didn’t care for it. (Unlike ABC, which did like it but had to cancel it due to bad ratings. They didn’t have any compatible shows.) The best explanation I’ve heard, from Al Jean and others, is that Fox was interested in doing more animated shows but not in doing a Simpsons companion piece that it didn’t own — The Critic was produced by Sony/Columbia. Since canceling The Critic, Fox has introduced many other prime-time cartoons, but they’ve all been Fox properties. In other words, the show was probably killed by the rise of Vertical Integration.
Mentioning The Critic brings up the question of which version was better, the ABC season or the redesigned, retooled Fox run. The original version was much less compromised; to get it picked up by Fox, the creators added new characters (Alice and Penny), redesigned Jay to make him cuter, and made him dumber, nicer, and luckier with the ladies. (Originally he was supposed to be the opposite of Homer in everything but girth and baldness: the idea was to have a cartoon lead who was urban, rich, and — at least in his own mind — sophisticated. On Fox he was basically Homer in the big city.) Still, I recall thinking the Fox episodes were more consistently funny; the pace was faster and the jokes were sillier. Still, I had no great love for the new characters and was sad that several regular characters, like Marty and Margo, were de-emphasized to make room for them.
Just to show the difference in designs — which seemed to involve making Jay’s eyes bigger and giving him happier default expressions — here’s an ABC clip:
And here’s a Jay subplot from one of the Fox episodes: